About those quests. Even though the storylines are undeniably engaging, the quests themselves follow the same tired formula of killing 10 dudes in one location and looting 20 items in other. And because there may be any number of quest givers spread throughout a given area, you may find yourself flying back to kill the same 10 dudes again if you encounter a quest that you missed the first time around. The good news is that DCUO sidesteps the problem of kill stealing by giving every player credit for a kill if they landed a hit or two, and sometimes you get credit for a collection quest if you're near another player on the same quest. But the quests are repetitive. Your location might change and the character models of the dudes you're killing will look a little different, but in the end it feels like you're doing the same thing over and over again.
Above: We could walk on water, but we couldn't turn it into wine
Unfortunately, this repetition carries over to the combat. DC Universe Online is first and foremost a console game that aims to bring the button-mashing glory of games like God of War to MMOs, and the PC controls suffer accordingly. Play without a gamepad and you'll find yourself mindlessly clicking your buttons even if you rearrange your keybinds. Try to play with a gamepad, and you'll usually find that the system won't recognize it. Worst of all, there's not even a cursor for selecting an enemy on the screen, so switching between foes means tab-targeting and hoping for the best. Thankfully, the combos and abilities available through your talent trees never grow complex enough to warrant setting up some kind of attack rotation, and you can conquer almost anything as long as you remember to block and use a few key combos and abilities (such as one that heals you). If anything, the button-mashing means that combat always feels fast-paced.
Yet the most glaring issue for PC users is the game's almost useless chat interface. The best MMOs are social in ways that Facebook can only dream of, and much of the success of games like World of Warcraft springs from their role as chat rooms with entertainment options. There's none of that here. For one, even bringing up the chat menu takes more effort than necessary. For another, the game's Puritan profanity filter occasionally blocks even the most angelic statements. We once went two whole hours without seeing anyone say anything in the chat interface despite there being men in tights running all over the place.
Above: And you thought your potholes were bad
The multiplayer instances suffer as a result. Known as "Alerts," these send you to places like Area 51 (when you can get into them), and you'll join other players as they down bosses for loot. The fights are usually fun, but strategy inevitably amounts to every player pummeling the boss with everything they've got since no one wants to bother with the cumbersome chat interface. And usually it works. To be sure, DCUO includes standard MMO roles like healers and tanks, but these mean little when everyone is free to blast away and heal other players only when they feel like it. This applies even to the PvP instances (where you can unlock the ability to play as iconic characters like Batman) which usually simply require holding a base and fending off incoming players with knockbacks and stuns. Fortunately, PvP is often more engaging than the PvE content since playing as DC icons removes the gear imbalances in other MMOs.
DC Universe Online has an endgame, but it may not justify playing beyond the first free month in its current state. For one, it's possible to reach the level cap of 30 within only a couple of days of gameplay, even while working a full-time job and playing only in the evenings. This is good for players wishing to avoid the grind of other MMOs, but it also means that the content flies by like Superman on the way to the can. And since superheroes and villains apparently think themselves above silly crafting professions, there's no option to engage in a server economy or even an auction house to sell stuff in. Instead, you grind for gear by improving your reputation with various factions, by fighting other players in arenas, or you can take a stab at actually working with your fellow heroes in the two challenging raids or the six difficult dungeons for rare items that more closely resemble the best costumes in DC's repertoire. There's a good chunk of content here, but it all seems a little too similar to what came before it.
Above: Strategy? What strategy?
Despite its problems, DC Universe Online still has a lot going for it. It's hard to be overly critical of an MMO that tries so hard to be different and which succeeds in many ways. Even the most casual comic book fans will drool over the lavishly illustrated cutscenes that round off single-player instances and major quest lines, and the accessible combat system embraces many players who would normally avoid the genre. The world is consistently beautiful, and the familiar characters and locations make DCUO uncommonly inviting. Unfortunately, the game's shorter than a modern comic book. Success as this point would require almost monthly content updates to keep most players interested, and we hope that Sony Online Entertainment has many surprises waiting. As it stands, DCUO is just a casual masterwork that any comic book fan should take for a spin, and we fear the $14.99 monthly subscription fee will be the kryptonite that brings this hopeful giant to its knees.
Jan 27, 2011